France’s newly appointed Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux has been banned from entering Azerbaijan because of his “illegal” trip to Nagorno-Karabakh last year, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
The ministry spokesman, Hikmet Hajiyev, said anyone visiting “occupied territories of Azerbaijan” without Baku’s permission violates the country’s “laws, territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
“The law is law and everyone is equal before it,” Hajiyev added, according to Azerbaijani news agencies.
In recent years, the Azerbaijani government has blacklisted hundreds of foreign lawmakers, other dignitaries and even journalists on the same grounds. Many of them used their visits to Karabakh to show support for the territory’s de facto secession from Azerbaijan.
Le Roux was the leader of the ruling Socialist Party’s faction in France’s lower house of parliament before being appointed as interior minister by President Francois Hollande on Tuesday. He headed a French parliamentary delegation that travelled to Karabakh through Armenia in September 2015 on what it called a fact-finding mission.
The five members of the delegation also inspected a section of the heavily militarized Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh, walking through Karabakh Armenian army trenches and monitoring the ceasefire regime there. They met with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan just before that trip.
Speaking in the Armenian capital at the time, Le Roux said that he and his Socialist colleagues are seeking more first-hand information about the Karabakh conflict. They also want to “forge close and friendly links with that place,” he said.
French parliamentarians, most of them with close ties to France’s influential Armenian community, visit Karabakh on a regular basis despite vehement protests from Azerbaijan.
Some of them are members of the Circle Of France-Karabakh Friendship, a pro-Armenian grouping of French deputies, senators and local government officials formed in 2013. Le Roux has also been affiliated with it.
In the United States, meanwhile, pro-Armenian members of the House of Representatives hosted an annual reception on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to mark the 25th anniversary of Karabakh’s declaration of independence from Azerbaijan. The event featured speeches by some of those lawmakers as well as a former U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, and Karabakh’s visiting prime minister, Arayik Harutiunian.
Harutiunian praised the U.S. for supporting confidence-building measures aimed at minimizing ceasefire violations in the Karabakh conflict zone. “We are glad that the U.S. shares our position in the protection of the rights of the Karabakh people and inadmissibility of military activities,” he said in remarks cited by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
He also blamed Azerbaijan for last April’s heavy fighting in Karabakh and said Baku is continuing to seek a military solution to the dispute.
According to the ANCA, the Podesta Group, a Washington-based lobbying firm working for the Azerbaijani government, circulated letters to the U.S. congressional offices condemning the event.